Wylde World: Nira Caledonia Hotel, Edinburgh
Report by David Newton
Edinburgh is absolutely one of my favourite cities in the world, and during my many visits to this great city, I have stayed in some wonderful hotels and, to be honest, not-so-wonderful ones.
The Nira Caledonia is, thankfully, firmly in the former camp and may just be my new favourite.
A true "boutique" (ie small-ish) hotel, its 28 rooms are spread across two elegant townhouses in Edinburgh's beautiful New Town area (new for the 17th-18th centuries!) and adjacent to the boho-luxe Stockbridge district. The Neo-Classical buildings come with their own fascinating history, having been the former home of literary figure John Wilson, a writer, critic, magazine editor and philosopher, who counted Wordsworth and Coleridge amongst his friends, and whose statue can be found on a stroll to nearby Prince's Street.
Indeed all of Edinburgh's greatest attractions are within walking distance of the hotel, from the castle, the Royal Mile, to Holyrood Palace, not to mention the bars, restaurants and shops of this bustling city.
So what's so wonderful about the Nira Caledonia in a city that (thanks to hosting the world's largest arts festival every summer) is hardly lacking in accommodation?
Well, aside from the stunningly elegant building and the amazing peace and quiet of such a central location, we loved the attention to detail and bend-over-backwards attitude of the staff. I've been fortunate enough to stay in one or two high-end hotels in my time and the one thing I've noticed separates them from merely "good" ones is the level of service that you can expect from the moment you arrive, until that last warm farewell upon departure.
The Nira's small, friendly team seems to have been hand-picked for their cheerful manners, problem-solving skills and willingness to go that bit further. An example? I didn't think I would need the phone next to the bed, so unplugged it to plug in my iPad charger and therefore didn't realise reception was trying to contact me to ask how many sandwiches I'd like (which I'd ordered totally off-menu downstairs). So the poor guy at the desk had to climb 3 flights of stairs (there's no lifts here, as befitting this older, listed property) in order to ask my preference, then go down again to inform the kitchen. How much did this inconvenient, sudden desire to have sandwiches in my room cost? No more than if I'd got them from M&S!
And Neil, who oversees the bar and dining areas, informed us we could wander about in our pyjamas at breakfast time if we so wished... a challenge we didn't feel inclined to take him up on! But a good indicator of the obliging-without-allowing-chaos tightrope that the best skilled staff can successfully walk.
The hotel restaurant (above) is Blackwood's Bar and Grill (named after John Wilson's magazine) and is overseen by Head chef David Scott, who has installed a Josper grill that imparts a wonderful, almost barbecue-like smokiness to most dishes. My companion had a fat, juicy steak and I sampled the lobster; both delicious and, like all the restaurant's food, sourced as locally as possible... certainly everything is Scottish.
As mentioned, we were on the top, third floor of the hotel in what is known as an Executive Suite, and the Nira Caledonia has rooms on all but the ground floor... including a couple of pleasant (and popular) lower-ground garden suites (see above). The pride of the hotel and surely a huge draw, are the huge, first floor Wilson and Jacuzzi Suites (see below). Truly grand and decorated in a lavish, yet warm style (each room in the hotel is distinctly different), they come with a combination of luxurious touches (the Jacuzzi rooms have, you guessed it, a separate whirlpool bath in addition to a fully-equipped bathroom).
I personally loved the confident use of black as a wall colour in the Wilson suite, as well as the ground floor dining room. Because of the scale of both rooms, the effect is far from claustrophobic, instead it is sexy and chic.
Sexy and chic...yet friendly and warmly welcoming... the Nira Caledonia really does seem to have it all and, for now, exists as an insider's secret getaway in a buzzy, exciting city.